Emer 's Reviews > Half of a Yellow Sun

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
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it was amazing
bookshelves: 5stars, the-chosen-ones, cried-me-a-river, read2016, library-loan, reviewed, literary-fiction, historical-fiction, adult-fiction
Recommended to Emer by: Anne

“The war would continue without them. Olanna exhaled, filled with the frothy rage. It was the very sense of being inconsequential that pushed her from extreme fear to extreme fury. She had to matter. She would no longer exist limply, waiting to die.”

Half of a Yellow Sun follows the lives of ordinary people in Nigeria during the 1960s; the time just before the Nigeria-Biafra war and during the war itself. It is an unflinching account of the tolls war takes on regular people. We see good people do good things and good people do bad things. That’s the thing about war, it changes everyone. No one knows how they will come out the other side…or if indeed they will come out the other side.


I loved this book. I just utterly loved it. Loved loved loved LOVED!! Just…. it was just breath taking…. I don’t know how Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie does it but this is my second time reading a book by her and this is my second time giving her a five star rating… I DON’T GIVE THEM OUT THAT EASILY!!!!!!!! *shocked face*… Oh I don’t know… my emotions are all over the place after this book. I have so many feelings, this book DESTROYED me!!! UTTERLY destroyed me!!!!!!!!!!!! I loved these characters and at times I hated them, I hated what war did to them….I HATED THIS BOOK!!! Ok blatant lie …but OH MY GOD DID IT MAKE ME FEEL SO VERY MUCH!!!!!!!!!!!! Oh there were times when I thought my heart would burst…

Ok I shall endeavour to calm down and make some sort of sense with this review…


You will have to forgive my knowledge of Nigerian history, it is very limited but this is my basic understanding of the background to the Nigerian Civil War. Please correct me if I am wrong.
Nigeria in the 1960s was just extricating itself from British colonial rule. However, it was a country that was made up of a multitude of different ethnic groups including the Igbo in the South East, the Yoruba in the South West and North Central, and the Hausa in the North. Despite gaining its freedom there was still a great deal of influence from Nigeria’s colonisers who wanted to maintain a hand in its resources and these influences had a strong hold in the Northern-dominated federal government. A civil war broke out in the years 1967 to 1970 when the Republic of Biafra was declared in the south east.
“The real tragedy of a postcolonial world is not that the majority of people had no say in whether or not they wanted this new world; rather, it is that the majority have not been given the tools to negotiate this new world.”


Half of a Yellow Sun begins in the early 1960s and we are introduced to a poor, young Igbo boy named Ugwu. Ugwu has just been employed as a houseboy for the ‘Master’, a man called Odenigbo. Odenigbo is middle class and a maths professor at the university in Nsukka. He is also a radical. Every evening he and his friends partake in political debate and he takes Ugwu under his wing and encourages him to read. Soon after beginning working for the Master, Olanna, Odenigbo’s lover comes to live with them. Olanna is the daughter of a wealthy Lagos businessman and she has been educated in London.
The book also introduces us to Olanna’s twin sister Kainene. Where Olanna is incredibly moralistic and passionate with her heart, Kainene is more closed-off, more protected. Kainene is in a relationship with a British man called Richard.


The story that follows builds up to the Nigerian civil war…. We see the romantic relationships of these characters in happier pre-war times; "This was love: a string of coincidences that gathered significance and became miracles."

We see the closeness of the sisters, the education of Ugwu, we see the development of friendships, the daily on-goings of regular life but we are always keenly aware of the political unrest ticking away underneath the surface and when the massacres of the Igbo people in 1966 begin life for our main characters changes irrevocably. When I read those scenes I felt so physically ill….just gut wrenching…. Loyalties are then tested, bonds are broken and the once close group of characters splinters apart. To see a family divided… War… what it does to people… oh there are no words…
“After the rally, she and Odenigbo drove to the staff club. Students had gathered on the hockey field nearby, burning paper effigies of Gowon around a glowing bonfire; the smoke curled into the night air and mixed with their laughter and chatter. Olanna watched them and realised with a sweet surge that they all felt what she felt, what Odenigbo felt, as though it were a liquid-steel instead of blood that flowed through their veins, as though they could stand barefoot over red-hot embers.”



No one comes out unscathed from war. NO ONE. And that is well evidenced in this novel. We see wrong doings on all sides…colonial interference, genocide and starvation as war tactics on one side, and atrocities committed against their own people on the other. No one is blameless. Adichie doesn’t shy away from showing the violence and excessive cruelty committed against the every-day ordinary citizen.


At a more personal level there is betrayal among our characters: they make good decisions, and bad decisions. The family rips apart. The book tells of youths becoming soldiers, people feeling trapped… There is so much hopelessness, depression, anger, hatred, love, loyalty, forgiveness… This book demonstrates the complexities of what it means to be human and how war makes us both unhuman and even more human at the same time. Again, no one is ever blameless after war.
“There are some things that are so unforgivable that they make other things easily forgivable”



Adichie writes such vivid multi-layered characters. No one is perfect, no one is idealised; they are all utterly human and fallible. In this book characters you have fallen in love with will test that love; this book will hurt your soul…as Adichie says in her author’s note ’agha ajoka’, war is very ugly. I wept openly reading this book. I loved the characters fiercely and I experienced pain and suffering with them. This is all down to Adichie’s wonderful writing. She showed me as a reader the horribleness of the Nigerian civil war through personal tragedies. So I connected whole heartedly with all the characters and their plight.
“Is love this misguided need to have you beside me most of the time? Is love the safety I feel in our silences? Is it this belonging, this completeness?


Ugwu however, was my personal favourite. I loved him. Here was a young boy just trying to make his way in the world and to be caught up in war and politics and see how it changed him, scarred him… See the decisions he made, decisions he did not make… No character has ever made me feel as much as he did. He made me feel love, he made my heart sore and then he took it and crushed it and rebuilt it once more… I just can’t explain it, you have to read this book.
“…the casual cruelty of this new world in which he had no say grew a hard clot of fear inside him.”



A quote from the book that I want to share regards the character Richard. Richard is British and a writer. On one occasion he meets with other Western journalists who are writing about the civil war but becomes greatly disillusioned by them when they ask for more information about the death of a foreign national. This passage haunted me…it sadly rings so true.
“Richard exhaled. It was like somebody sprinkling pepper on his wound: thousands of Biafrans were dead, and this man wants to know if there is anything new about one dead white man. Richard would write about this, the rule of Western journalism: 100 dead black people equal one dead white person.”



To me when someone says Biafra I think about starvation. I think about why Médecins Sans Frontières was founded. I think about all those horrible photographs of malnourished children. At the beginning of the book we see middle-class Odenigbo and upper class Olanna and Kainene as having plenty of food…the latter stages of the book drastically contrasts this and we are shown how the people in the Republic of Biafra were left to starve, how food channels were cut off from them. Children suffered from kwashiorkor, a severe form of malnutrition and were left to die in refugee camps.
“Kainene took the baby inside and gave it to another woman, a relative of the dead woman whose bony body was quivering; because her eyes were dry, it took Olanna a moment to realise that she was crying, the baby pressed against her flattened, dry breasts.”

The struggles of Olanna to attempt to get food for her family are particularly harrowing. We see a once proud woman beg and risk her life over a simple tin of corned beef… It was shocking, moving, horrific…all of the above. "…his eyes saw the future. And so she did not tell him that she grieved for the past…”


Ok maybe I’ve made this book sound so negative as if it is all doom and gloom… But the human spirit is resilient. And good God are these characters and these people ever so resilient! So while they live through the most extreme horrors this book is also strangely uplifting in that people rising from the ashes kind of way. Never underestimate the strength of character of the oppressed. To me this is a book about forgiveness; forgiveness between peoples and between individual people. It is a book about healing divisions and reuniting what was once splintered and broken.


Oh this book….. I know I’ve probably over quoted in this review but I just could not help myself…and there are so many more passages and quotes that I wanted to use….. Oh this book…. I LOVE THIS BOOK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! It was well written, well researched, had a wonderful plot, characters that felt alive, stories that made my heart burst…I just loved it and I would recommend it wholeheartedly to any reader.


Five stars
“She told them about the Biafran flag. They sat on wooden planks and the weak morning sun streamed into the roofless class as she unfurled Odenigbo's cloth flag and told them what the symbols meant. Red was the blood of the siblings massacred in the north, black was for mourning them, green was for the prosperity Biafra would have, and, finally, the half of a yellow sun stood for the glorious future.”




PS THANK YOU ONCE AGAIN ANNE FOR RECOMMENDING IT TO ME!!!!!!!
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Quotes Emer Liked

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
“This was love: a string of coincidences that gathered significance and became miracles.”
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
“There are some things that are so unforgivable that they make other things easily forgivable.”
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun


Reading Progress

January 20, 2016 – Shelved
February 10, 2016 – Started Reading
February 11, 2016 –
page 83
18.53% "Liking this so far: interesting mix of characters and good set up... *thumbs up*"
February 11, 2016 –
page 100
22.32% ""And on top of it, her parents sent her to university. Why? Too much schooling ruins a woman; everyone knows that. It gives a woman a big head and she will start to insult her husband. What kind of wife will that be?" ...so I'll not be rooting for this character then!"
February 12, 2016 –
page 156
34.82% "Reading this through a veil of tears..."
February 13, 2016 –
page 302
67.41% ""The war would continue without them. Olanna exhaled, filled with the frothy rage. It was the very sense of being inconsequential that pushed her from extreme fear to extreme fury. She had to matter. She would no longer exist limply, waiting to die." Words cannot express how much I am in love with this book; it is raw, it is honest, it is brutal, it is true."
February 14, 2016 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-26 of 26 (26 new)

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Adita ✨The Slumbering Insomniac✨ I am looking forward to your review! I have so badly wanted to read this ever since I saw it on Anne's page! :)


Emer Adita wrote: "I am looking forward to your review! I have so badly wanted to read this ever since I saw it on Anne's page! :)"

It does sound like an awesome book doesn't it? And so far I've read the first three chapters and they are living up to expectation :)) Xx


message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

You said "LOVED IT" at least a BILLION times...knowing your judgement, that's definitely gonna mean something special! So excited to get a hold of this one!
Ahh...my TBR list is ballooning!


Anne Would you believe I'm crying, Emer? I'm really crying. I'll calm down and wipe my tears so I can see clearly and really say everything I need to say.


Emer Shreya wrote: "You said "LOVED IT" at least a BILLION times...knowing your judgement, that's definitely gonna mean something special! So excited to get a hold of this one!
Ahh...my TBR list is ballooning!"


YAY!!! I love messing with people's TBR lists!! Oh will we ever clear them???????? Doubtful....LOL!! Oh this book though Shreya....it was amazing!!! AMAZING I TELL YOU!!!!!!!!!!! Aahhhhhhhhhh i don't know.... I just loved it....i guess I've said that already *blushes* Read it!! Oh read it so we can talk all about it :))))))) Xx


Emer Anne (Anneshka) wrote: "Will you believe in crying, Emer? I'm really crying. I'll calm down and wipe my tears so I can see clearly and really say everything I need to say."

*offers hugs and tissues*....THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for recommending this book to me....oh we will talk about it Anne WE WILL TALK!!! I have SO much to say...oh that ending....and Ugwu..... oh and the quote 'she looked at him with a calm hate'...oh anne I don't think I've ever been more devastated by a quote in a book....


Anne My heart feels so big, I swear. I'm afraid it would explode. You know someone once asked me, "What book changed your life?" I answered them: I don't know. That was a lie. That was a big lie. I didn't know it then, but this was the book. This is it. It has to be, I can't be feeling like this for nothing. I mean it's not possible to feel like this and not believe this book means everything to me. While I was reading your review, it all came back to me. My little 12 year old self, in bed with the light from the little lamp on my bedside table, and my whole body attuned to this book like I could draw life from the words in it. Everything I felt the first time I read this came back to me. I remember painfully how small I felt, and of course I was small in age and in size, but God the world felt bigger and scarier after this book. I thought I'd die crying over this book. I think that was the moment I realized how powerful words are. I probably knew it then, that I wanted to continue reading - breaking and healing - with books for the rest of my life.

And this was the moment I talked about. The one at the end that killed me:(view spoiler)

And don't worry, young one. I think you got the historical facts right. Honestly I too am not profoundly knowledgeable in this area. And my mom is Igbo!! She was a young girl when the Biafra war happened, but she still remembers it so well. I think part of the reason I cried so much was because it could have been her, with a machete through her body. **shivers** I would never have been born! It's so sad, the prejudice between Igbos and Hausas. The butchering and massacre, oh God. I love the characters' internal relationships and their external relationship with the war. And Ugwu!!! Gahhh Ugwu! Ugwu! (view spoiler) I preferred Kainene to Olanna. Olanna seemed pretty and perfect in the beginning while Kainene was referred to as the ugly twin. But by the time I found out that Olanna was more than just pretty, I was already so deep in love with Kainene. And this: (view spoiler) This book was about forgiveness and healing to me too, Emer! And I could spend the rest of the night talking about it and how it makes me feel with you. I can't believe I get to share this with you, and you with me. This is very easily one of the best moments in my life. Silly but true :) YOU'RE THE FIRST PERSON I GOT TO SHARE THIS WITH. AND I'M MURDEROUSLY HAPPY! THIS IS OUR BOOK.


Anne And that is what an epistle looks like! Tee hee :)


message 9: by Anne (last edited Feb 15, 2016 03:32AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Anne I REMEMBER THAT QUOTE! And oh, I'm going crazy with the comments, but I'm on my own personal kind of high right now. Thank you so much, you really don't know what you've given me! AND YES WE HAVE TO TALK ABOUT THIS BOOK. I'm going to be rereading it soon. It's decided. I guess four times can be a charm too. If that makes sense :/


message 10: by Councillor (new) - added it

Councillor I've shelved this book as "maybe later" some months ago ... but your review has boosted it on the top of my "will definitely read one day" list. Fantastic review of this book, Emer! I really enjoyed reading about your elaboratively presented thoughts, especially with all the interesting background you offered. It's great to know that you loved this book so much! :))


message 11: by Sivi (new) - added it

Sivi Such an awesome review! It totally convinced me to add it to my to-read list :P


Emer Anne (Anneshka) wrote: "And that is what an epistle looks like! Tee hee :)"

Oh Anne I LOVE LOVE LOVE your epistle!!!! :))))))) I'll reply properly via message because it's just a little awkward typing on my phone with all these spoilers. I'm terrified of posting incorrectly! :)) but yes yes yes. I am so so happy that you shared this with me. It will always be our book! ALWAYS!!! <3 <3


Emer Councillor wrote: "I've shelved this book as "maybe later" some months ago ... but your review has boosted it on the top of my "will definitely read one day" list. Fantastic review of this book, Emer! I really enjoye..."

EXCELLENT!!! I am delighted to hear it Fabian. It is definitely a must read book if only to educate about the horrors of the Nigerian-Biafran war...but then it is stunningly written too and so heart wrenching. I truly hope you love it as much as I do and can't wait to hear your opinions on it when you do get a chance to read it. :)))


Emer Sivi wrote: "Such an awesome review! It totally convinced me to add it to my to-read list :P"

Oh thank you so much Sivi!!! It is a wonderful read and I sincerely hope that you gain as much enjoyment from this book as I did whenever you read it :))))


Aj the Ravenous Reader What a beautiful, heartfelt review, Emer! When you love a book, it definitely shows through your words that are full of passion and wisdom. <3


Emer Aj the Ravenous Reader wrote: "What a beautiful, heartfelt review, Emer! When you love a book, it definitely shows through your words that are full of passion and wisdom. <3"

Aw thank you so much for your lovely and kind words Aj, they really mean a lot to me. Xx


message 17: by Masooma (last edited Feb 15, 2016 03:10AM) (new)

Masooma Another marvellous review, Emer ❤ I love reading your reviews, they are full-to-the-brim of all the feelings you felt for the book =)


Emer Masooma wrote: "Another marvellous review, Emer ❤ I love reading your reviews, they are full-to-the-brim of all the feelings you felt for the book =)"

Aw that's so nice of you to say Masooma. Thank you so much...I reeeeeeeally do have SO many feelings about this book!!!! :D <3


message 19: by Tabetha (new) - added it

Tabetha What an incredible review, Emer...I added it awhile ago, but moved it up. Beautifully written, incredible review, Emer!!!


Emer Tabetha wrote: "What an incredible review, Emer...I added it awhile ago, but moved it up. Beautifully written, incredible review, Emer!!!"

Thank you sweet Tabetha :) I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It is one of those life changing books. It challenges you, it hurts you, it makes you feel joy, pain...everything in between. Adichie is a wonderful author and I hope that when you do get a chance to read it that you will love it as much as I did :))) xox


message 21: by Julie (new) - added it

Julie Carpenter Great review! I'm adding it to my TBR shelf!


Emer Julie wrote: "Great review! I'm adding it to my TBR shelf!"

Thanks Julie!!! I'm very pleased to hear it :D I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.


Margitte Great review! I love all the quotes from the book, Emer. This was one of my favorites too, and like you, I did not know where to begin and end with a review. There was just so much to share after closing the novel. I'm so glad you write long reviews. I love reading a friend's passion about books. Okay, I do the same, but sometimes we just cannot help ourselves, right? lolol. It is really so great to meet you!


Emer Margitte wrote: "Great review! I love all the quotes from the book, Emer. This was one of my favorites too, and like you, I did not know where to begin and end with a review. There was just so much to share after c..."

This is one of the books that I feel most passionate about. If I could make another person read just one book I think it would be this one. Adichie is such an incredibly powerful writer (so how could I stop myself from quoting so much!!!)
Thanks so much Margitte :))))


Margitte Another book you might enjoy is Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese. A much longer novel, but riveting and gripping.


Emer Margitte wrote: "Another book you might enjoy is Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese. A much longer novel, but riveting and gripping."

I don't mind longer lengths. I will definitely check it out. And thank you for your other rec too Margitte. I am always open to discovering new books that I may not have heard of before :)))


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